I’ve recently been reading the book ‘A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things’ by Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore (University of California Press, 2017). This is a fantastic summary of the way capitalism created the ecology that we are currently lost in. I hope you read it soon. Patel and Moore draw a map through history that articulates our broken relationship with nature, showing the steady evolution of capitalism as an ecosystem that has hypnotized the human species. Their book describes the strategies that divorce us from recognizing our participation. It’s a spiritual crisis where supremacy and domination are the expected rewards -self interest is a safety vest. The book is very very good at naming the people and species who suffer and pay for our cheap society.
“Cheap is a strategy, a practice, a violence that mobilizes all kinds of work-human and animal, botanical, and geological- with as little compensation as possible. “
– ‘A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things’
I often create art that tries to achieve the same result as Patel and Moore – visual essays that draw attention towards the toxic truths behind our distracted pleasures, I have a website (where you can see my work) but I don’t trust it’s usefulness. In the past few years I’ve become very apprehensive of the internet as a platform for dialogue. Having any contact online feels dangerous, I think this is because publishing digitally is part of the capitalist ecology. It’s feeding the systems that externalize what is truly real, it flattens the universe into single linear thinking. It creates it’s own currency by existing. On the other hand, the internet CAN be beautiful, illuminating the invisible -it can amplify a revolution.
We learn so much by sharing, but my attempt here is like touching a milkweed tussock caterpillar, giving you a mysterious weeping rash for most of July from its invisible hairs. The tussock larvae’s choice food is milkweed, which is filled with a poisonous sap containing cardiac glycosides. Eating a poison rich caterpillar causes most birds to puke violently or can even prove fatal, so don’t dialogue with these rashly caterpillars. They even possess a special organ that pulses an ultrasonic signal specifically to deter bats. They are exceptional metaphors.
Publishing online has invisible hairs that travel into vulnerable areas with painful consequences you might not see for some time. Our digital universe commodifies communication and it seems to sustain short-term satisfaction, which is the heart of capital ecology. I am so wary, and my instincts tell me that exposure as a currency is going to be a form of cheap life.
I’ve lived in Hollis, Maine for 18 years, raising a family and a menagerie of pets. There is a gorgeous meadow almost directly behind my home where all the pretty monarchs and the evil tussock caterpillars fend off the blue jays and bats, it’s tenderly maintained with groomed trails for Hollis residents by the Nestle Corporation. The Nestle Corporation includes over 2,000 brands in 189 countries. They are major players in hydrology markets.
‘Poland Spring’ leases the right to extract, bottle and ship an epic amount of water from the ancient aquifer that sleeps beneath my old rotten house. Nestle bottles water under 72 brands in 160 countries with an annual profit close to ten billion dollars. It is a perfect example of the cheapest extraction, where water and life have been shaped as capital for enormous profit. What is the carrying capacity of this exchange?
“ The idea of world ecology allows us to see how the modern world’s violent and exploitive relationships are rooted in five centuries of capitalism and also how these unequal arrangements- even those that appear timeless and necessary today – are contingent and in the midst of unprecedented crisis.”
‘A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things’
The Nestle meadow (known as California Fields) in Hollis is currently planted with pine saplings and eventually the meadow looks to be a timber wood lot. This paints the picture in which a living species was externalized into capital. Our dependence on the recovery of the pine forest atop the aquifer is the safety vest that assures our future. We are comfortable that the land is being restored. We congratulate ourselves that the land is paying us back for existing.
A few times a year ‘Poland Spring’ allows local amateur field trials, where enthusiastic hunters (and their bird dogs) release hundreds of game birds for sport hunting. These birds are raised in cages and have never experienced what we call the natural world. They have no clue how to exist independently. An afternoon is spent like a cartoonish Dick Cheney escapade, chasing and shooting these birds and then everybody leaves. What remains, the surviving cage raised Chukar or Pheasant wandering the field, lost and overwhelmed. They don’t really understand how to escape local predators, I doubt they know how to eat or find water. They are designed for our ecosystem but they cannot survive it. They are extended ‘things’ that serve as a bridge between our constructed society and our constructed nature. They are cheap lives.
Of the 2,000 brands that Nestle controls internationally, there is the world of chocolate. As Halloween rolls around we see the invisible hairs that link cheap labor (which is also titled modern slavery) with the candy supplier. Nestle has softly been rebranding their lack of an ethical supply chain regarding chocolate. But recently Australia passed a bill requiring more transparency towards trafficking, labor and supply chains. Nestle’s response was a curt warning that customers and consumers will likely be responsible for the time and cost of this global responsibility-don’t mess with the eco system. Halloween, which has mostly replaced the rituals and sympathetic magic that breached the veil to our dead ancestors, is an anxious frenzy of plastic crap and cheap candy. It is an easy distraction from Malthusian thinking which requires despair and racism to argue that population and resources are the rights of capitalism. Trick or treat.
“If capitalism is a disease, then it’s one that eats your flesh- and then profits from selling your bones for fertilizer, and then invests that profit to reap the cane harvest, and sells that harvest to tourists who pay to visit your headstone.”
– Dann and Seaton, (Slavery, Contested Heritage and Thanotourism, 2001)
I believe that artists are teachers, leaders and healers. We come from an ancient practice long before work was a useful design for capital ecology. We are here to remember.
I am currently working on new projects for 2019, including a group show at Greenhut Galleries as well as a faculty exhibition at the ICA, at Maine College of Art.
When I hear the word dialogue the first thought in my mind is that of a relationship. In a philosophic context, all meaningful relationships are sustained through dialogue: it is how we get to know someone or something by spending time and conversing. As a painter, I am constantly engaged with the work either mentally, arranging, discussing potential connections, or remaining open to various stimuli in the environment around me. Medium, process, and subject matter are the tools and mechanisms I use to express that ongoing dialogue.
It is not unusual for people to become overly focused on the subject matter of my work and miss the actual essence of the painting. My inspiration comes from the story in the stars. I plot the positions of the stars in their recognizable celestial alignments as the armature of the imagery. The color, shape, form, and the underlying tapestry of the ancient story becomes the embodiment of that relationship.
Where thousands of years have testified to the very stars we see at night, there is an undeniable chord connecting all of us within the time/space continuum. This coupled with my desire to understand as much as I possibly can of the star story told from the beginning of recorded time makes for a very deep well of inspiration and fodder for my life’s work. My intent is for viewers to look and to see the work with the eyes of their heart.
The primeval story in the stars is a picture of hope, the restored relationship of humankind with our Great Maker. It is told through the original names of the stars visible with the naked eye. Over one hundred star names are still known and used today that have endured since they were identified, somewhere in the neighborhood of 3500 to 4500 years ago. That alone is noteworthy! As the stars anchor the work’s imagery I find a deep, old connection with the stream of generations and with our Great Maker as I begin each piece of work.
This felt connection adds a level of responsibility and stewardship to the work. My paintings are not disconnected from nature. Initially, the work appears abstract. However, taking time to see them, a recognizable order and system of pattern becomes evident as it cycles through the work. We see the constellations rotating around the earth, so do they cycle through the paintings.
Notice that the constellation of Capricorn when depicted in the work carries with it the same three side piece constellations. Its shape remains constant as does its spatial relationship to Delphinus, Sagitta, and Aquila, its three decan constellations from the primeval story. These four constellations grouped together describe one facet of the narrative. Pictured here is Sphere of Paradox which features the Capricorn group and an accompanying chart with its named stars.
In the oldest star charts Capricorn is seen as a dying goat in a falling posture with its tail rising up as the tail of a vigorous fish. In this chart the star Algedi, meaning the Billy Goat or the chosen of the flock, and Dabih just under it, meaning the cut off or the sacrifice slain, can be found to the lower right. Deneb Algedi, the tail of the goat, completes the arc of Capricorn from right to left. Just to the right of Deneb Algedi is the star Nashira, meaning bearer of good news. Above and to the right is its first decan constellation, Aquila, the pierced eagle whose brightest star Altair, means “the wounded”. This “kingly” bird has taken the heavenly arrow, the second side constellation Sagitta, to willingly die as a sacrifice. The third decan constellation Delphinus symbolizes a dolphin rising out of the water; it is the picture of the tail of the goat rising to new life out of death.
Telling the story of the stars through painting creates an opportunity to balance scientific knowledge of today with the presence of the Great Knowing existing beyond the realm of space and time. In the words of T.S. Elliot, “Poetry communicates before it is understood.” The dialogue emerging from within one’s heart is where Art lives.
Art will not allow you to define it, nor will it allow you to touch it for very long. Though it seems fleeting, it is rewarding, fulfilling you while it beckons you. This is a living dialogue, it is a paradox. You will touch its being only as you yourself step aside to allow it through. We are called to become conduits, part of the grand poem, of something we cannot yet understand.
I am not doing anything new or anything never before done. I am merely allowing what is and always has been present to filter through me. I am part of it and it is part of me. It is the ultimate dialogue.
When we speak today of initiating dialogue, what we achieve more than not is diatribe. Entrenched speakers compete against another without genuine exchange of thought. Yet it’s diversity of thought that makes us human, not solipsism. Sincere communication is obtained by accepting those we perceive as the Other. We cannot engage with complex and diverse thought without the views of those who see and experience the world as different from our own. Our culture is far too engaged with apathy for that reason. For dialogue to occur, we must not shout over each other, or for that matter merely listen as we wait for rebuttal. We ought to listen and extend ourselves into the minds of difference. To do so, is empathy.
I’ve spent the entirety of my life trying to empathize with those who hate. As a thirty-three year old gay man, I grew up in the 1990s at the height of the culture wars. Life in central New York was far from the metropolitan grandeur I craved, farther still from anything hinting at queerness. My family life felt quite normal, inasmuch as most leather-clad Harley biker families are. I spent most weekends with smells of exhaust and stale beer, thundering engines and raucous tattooed men who always had time to play a game with the quiet pipsqueak running about their feet. Not surprisingly there was also a fair amount of intolerant speech growing up. These were men protecting their masculinity in ways they saw fit, ways that were counter to my own sense of masculinity. Too early in the zeitgeist to come out to family and peers in my teens, I instead learned how to listen. I learned how to comprehend complexity. For a gay kid growing up in a family that loved him, but didn’t understand the inequity of their speech, resentment grew only fruitless benefits. Throughout college, I sat silently in the company of many straight men in power who expressed severe discomfort with sexual difference. I did this not out of self-hatred, but to gain a deeper understanding of humanity, about privilege, and my role within it. While I didn’t have the privilege to speak, I could think. Thinking as Plato and Aristotle describe—being in silent dialogue between me and myself. The dialogue of utter silence.
Having empathy toward the offensive and intolerant has many attributes. I’m fully aware that while I speak of empathy and understanding through dialogue, I will never persuade the minds of demagogues like former Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos or his followers. Direct activism is not my strength. I am an educator and my art practice reflects that position. My passion lies with philosophical activism: presenting ideas and challenging clichés, in order for you to determine your own mind.
We also hear a lot about safe spaces today, especially on college campuses. In 2016 after the presidential election, there were a number of attempts at liberal solidarity. One particular gesture provoked me the most, that of the safety pin. Situated as a political statement, the goal was to visibly show support towards marginalized groups by wearing the most innocuous of objects, a safety pin. The wearer in doing so proclaimed a willingness to confront injustices and not become a silent witness. While the motivations are perfectly valid, I found for the most part, they became empty gestures to assuage despondency and guilt. The following year I started the Panzi Project in conversation with this phenomenon. Making use of a previous pattern from several sculptures of manhole covers, the cross icon was cast in aluminum and transformed into a lapel pin. Referencing WWI remembrance poppies, the cross was turned on its side to form an X and summon the genocidal histories of LGBT people. The sale of each pin acts as a complete donation to the Canadian charity The Rainbow Railroad, whose mission is to liberate LGBT people from countries with state-enabled violence, murder and persecution. The alternate intention is to expose the gesture of silence as feel- good activism. The participants are presented with a choice of action or inaction, apathy or empathy. The double-edged sword of a good deed done at one point in time, and the follow through of continued action.
The most crucial question of dialogue is who speaks and who is spoken to. The privilege of speech dictates both a voice and absence of voice. While the direction of authority determines the exchange as either one or two-way communication. The difficulty of dialogue is whether we engage in cooperative or competitive arguments, where minds can come together or emotions flare. The most treacherous is the echo chamber, that cacophony of compliant speech where people form words but never speak to one another. We have shifted from exploring nuance into defending talking points and safeguarding sameness, comfortable in the fragile narcissistic tribes we have constructed for ourselves.
This type of sectarianism is quite ominous for our society. It shields us from discussions of difference, particularly when contrasting ideas occur within the same community. Inability to resonate with the echo chamber can be grounds for expulsion from the tribe. Unanimity of opinion quickly fabricates a level of fanaticism and eliminates those who dissent. While the gay community in public discourse is often seen as persecuted and oppressed, the struggle of inclusivity has many facets. I’m here to say that insularly, the community has many pitfalls with racism, exclusion, and agenda. Dissenters from the prescribed culture are not always made welcome, with some quite dangerous effects.
Researching the Panzi Project, I came across the paradoxical phenomenon of gay fascists. The Alt-Right author Jack Donovan illustrated this case in 2006 writing (under a pseudonym) his manifesto Androphilia. He writes: “Androphilia is an effort to reclaim this rich male heritage for men who love men. It dismisses those who want to confine homosexual males to a clichéd effeminate stereotype.” Far from isolated company, many other instances came to light. Milo Yiannopoulos the aforementioned Brietbart contributor, actively proclaims his associations with white supremacists, and in 2016 proudly attacked a trans student while speaking at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Yiannopoulos is also an out gay man with a black husband. Ernst Röhm, a well known homosexual, was also an early member of the Nazi Party and close friend to Adolf Hitler. Nicky Crane was a British neo-Nazi in the 1980s before he was ejected for publicly coming out as gay after he had contracted HIV. The Sun newspaper aptly printed the headline “Nazi Nick is a Panzi.”
Needless to say, I was at a loss for words. In order to grapple with this expanded view of what I perceived as incomprehensible, that of queer fascists, I let research dictate the conversation. The first to speak was Röhm. A high ranking member of the German Workers’ Party, Röhm was brazen in his homosexual posture. Opposing Paragraph 175, Röhm challenged heteronormative superiority and his prophetic words formed the foundation of my approach in the work. “All revolutions devour their own children.” Disembodied mouths, both sexual and sinister, silently quote the dire prophecy. The photographs float in a black void as a nod to the Samuel Beckett play Not I—a reminder to myself while peering into the darkness. Aluminum truncheons, the weapon of police and symbol of authority, hang underneath Röhm’s words as tokens of masculine prowess and sexual deviance.
Nicky Crane, or “Nazi Nick,” proposed a different conversation. His double life as a homosexual man frequenting gay dance clubs one night, then leading racist attacks on young black men on another, confronted me with how the marginalized find warped positions of power. Yet Jack Donovan and Nicky Crane were too extreme to work with, I needed my own manifestation. I decided on creating a caricature of the queer alt-right: a queer skin-head who could stand as counter-vanguard and antagonist for me to reconcile with. Garlanded with a black rubber harness constructed with the same pattern as the Panzi Project, the character Jacksie came alive. Towering and hateful, his image is all posturing, his harness a bit queer. The braces (British term for suspenders) attach to nothing, merely draping over his back and shoulders. The form is based on a sautoir, a long open-ended necklace intended to draw the eye to its end, hovering just above the groin. The intention was to add some semblance of sensuality to his bereft hostility, regardless of how futile that may be. I’m apprehensive of how Jacksie takes on a life in my work. He’s contentious in his creation but also in his banality.
For this reason I’ve returned to the perspectives of the twentieth century political philosopher Hannah Arendt. Her words on totalitarianism, now approaching seventy years from their original publication, are once again looming ominously over our current time. Arendt’s famed concept of the ‘banality of evil’ was in response to the trial of Nazi SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann. Though conscious of his sheer guilt, Arendt’s expression was to convey the thoughtlessness of Eichmann’s deeds, the banality of a man performing evil without evil intention. Through conformism, blind acceptance and collaboration, one surrenders the ability to think and to be human. For Arendt, that is when evil infiltrates society.
There is a subtle irony in the concepts presented by Arendt and the social tribalism of today. Arendt effectively disarmed the emotional fervor surrounding Eichmann’s trial by introducing the monster as a banal thoughtless bureaucrat. I propose that same zeal in which we comply with defending liberalism produces a tangential consequence—the Mediocrity of Tolerance.
Clearly I don’t wish to equate the horrific atrocities of Eichmann and the Third Reich with decent people attempting to better society through advocating social progress. The banality of evil stands as a warning for generations of decent people, as a constant reminder how demagogues cultivate ‘normative morality’ to suit the tribalist ego. Social morality and ethics are the pillars of democratic societies. They also require careful and constant maintenance. When we encase ourselves in tolerance without understanding, without thinking, social dialogue becomes empty words uttered without purpose. Appearances of being ‘woke’ are revealed as little more than a daydream.
Dialogue is what rouses consciousness to the lurking contradictions within tolerance. Whereas the banality of evil elicits a normative morality, the mediocrity of tolerance elicits moral urgency. With the potential of offense engendering such trepidation, content becomes paralyzed through its curtailment. This jarring realization happened for me in the recent exhibition of a new body of work, ironically titled the Redaction Series. Twenty-one photographic metal prints of gay and trans men—each with their eyes obscured by a pixelation device. Emerging from the horrific reports of abduction, torture, and execution of homosexual men in the Russian-backed Southern Republic of Chechnya, I wanted to determine whether it was possible to document the liminal boundary of empathy and apathy. Arranging itself on two fronts, the project formed a schism between production and reception. Given that I required men to photograph, I had to form a deeper relationship and engagement with my local gay community. The basis of the work generated an outpouring of support and interest to participate. My studio gradually formed a secondary site for queer interaction and community outside the familiar bar-scene. We united into a family. Reception of the work was far more shocking. Discussion rebounded from the content of the work into a battleground of political one-upmanship. Interrogations spanned the gamut of social triggering. I was misogynistic for the absence of lesbian women. I was transphobic for the lack of trans women. Flawed in the ambiguous representation of trans men, and insensitive to black trauma as a white artist depicting men of color. I see the anger, but also the blindness. The moral urgency to call out perceptions of intolerance kept them from seeing reality. My objective with the work was to delineate the threshold of empathy and apathy. What I discovered was a blockade.
We’ve detached ourselves from complex reasoning through encampment inside thinly-walled temples of tolerant simplicity. I needed to provide multiplicity. My role reversed from initiating conversation around empathy, to defusing apathetic tensions, and defending the contextual conditions for the project. The greater theme of my work focuses on the hypermasculine, and the fragility/fluidity of its construction within the hetero/homo male binary. Chechen authorities have publicly condemned all homosexuality, yet their campaign of torture and murder only targeted gay men. The absence (or redaction if I may) of lesbian and trans women’s visibility in the project, is part of the dialogue. It’s not an erasure, but a conversation surrounding the politics of sexuality and masculinity. Regarding a white artist depicting people of color, Dana Schutz’s infamous painting of Emmett Till certainly has every curator of art wringing their hands. The success surrounding Schutz’s painting was in part the constructive dialogue of racial trauma. The failure of the painting was that Schutz appropriated black trauma through the privileged reflection and re-creation of a white artist. The men in my work are a collective family. We share in collective queer trauma. While I can empathize with the inequities of my gay community, I also recognize the boundary of discrimination for others. I can however use my privilege. I can speak to the racism and transphobia within the gay community by incorporating that dialogue within the work. The revealing comments I received speak more to our current cultural preoccupations.
These tendencies of contemporary life illuminate why we need to be offended less, and shy from retreating into a world superseded by emotion, than that of logic and dialogue. Public discourse is more than capable of entreating complexity in uncomfortable viewpoints, so long as we speak with purpose and thought. Art by its nature is pressed to offend as a counterforce to mediocrity. It should not be censured out of fear of infringing sensibilities. It exposes who we are. Language is deceitful. Those gifted with a talent for words can rally the masses. My work is an act without words. It undermines the script we use to govern each other. An apparition of dialogue for us to finally listen.
For the last year and a half, I have been obsessed with creating my upcoming show, American Steel, at CMCA. It is a true departure for me on many fronts: it’s realist, it’s text-driven, it’s political, and hopefully it’s funny. If it’s not a little bit funny something’s gone wrong, and if it doesn’t go past this charged political moment, something has also gone wrong.
I’m attempting to unpack my abstract and specific thoughts about this country of ours.
The work runs from the miniature–oyster shells–to the macro–enormous pillars and a serpent. I’m hoping the work will read like a dark allegorical fairytale with some optimistic twists. It has been an amazing work cycle. So many new discoveries of technique and form and specificity. When I’m not terrified I’m having the best time of my life.
The obvious reason for this strange new batch of work is the injection of toxins that this current administration has shot into our politics, and even more significantly, into our society. Trump has opened the door that I had hoped would remain locked at the bottom of the ocean. People just feel comfortable spitting hate without ever hearing or even wanting a cogent response. Because the dialogue seems so discordant, I felt compelled to enter it.
Last winter I found myself in a bit of an artistic slump. The flow of energy and ideas that had moved through me freely and guided my work for years seemed to have dried up. As winter gave way to spring, I reached beyond my studio walls to other artists in my orbit curious about what they were working on. How had they ridden the wave of creativity over the long haul? What did their daily studio practices look like? I wanted their insights. Ultimately their answers cast my experiences as part of a larger and ongoing conversation. As painter Gail Spaien notes, “painting is a physical manifestation of life…it brings us in closer contact with what it means to be alive and heightens our awareness about that which is not visible.”
Henry Wolyniec is involved with three distinct bodies of work at the moment. The first, which he has been working on for the last decade, consists of paper collage and relief printing. The second is a series of painted wire and paper sculptures started in the summer of 2017. The third is photography, which he has been doing for about three years. Henry says of his work that it is not concept driven or grounded in ideas; rather he continues at a piece until a series of visual decisions seem to come together.
Photography started as a fast and easy way for Wolyniec to capture an image. After a while, he noticed that certain kinds of images, specifically densely-packed compositions that included some form of overlapping shadow or reflection, kept showing up. Around the same time, he saw that his collages, in comparison, had gone flat and lacked composition. Recognizing he had worked himself into an aesthetic corner, Wolyniec realized photography would help him find his way out.
For Henry, navigating his need to have the time, energy, and focus his work requires has meant letting go of certain personal relationships not in sync with art making, as well as making specific choices around work and living situations that are affordable and studio friendly. Keeping life simple and uncluttered works, he notes, if money is not a motivation or within realistic reach.
Currently at work on a series that explores different color combinations, Ingrid Ellison’s paintings are an effort to balance pressure with open space. Her ideas come in the form of visual cues from nearly everywhere–the foggy harbor, a solitary mountain path, cracked and peeling paint, the shadow on a wall, a new tube of paint, passages from books and phrases from poems or songs, as well as time spent alone, out of doors, moving through space, woods, or water. There her mind empties and her thoughts are clearest.
Lately she has begun to explore writing as an extension of her creative practice. She keeps a visual journal that she takes everywhere, in which she writes, draws, paints, and collages.
Frequently she experiences a period in which she feels as though she has explored all her options in a particular body of work and were she to continue, she would begin repeating herself. This is usually followed by a series of unsuccessful paintings that she keeps making until something new reveals itself, and then she is off following that tangent. It’s a very experimental phase, she says, and one of her tricks to moving through it is to force herself to start differently.
Kim Bernard has been working with a quarter round shape that forms a particular mark. It took her weeks of focusing exclusively on this flow-like element to get the mark right. This was followed by several more weeks of figuring out what materials to work with and how to apply the mark. She says this period was characterized by quite a bit of dissatisfaction, but she dealt with it, because “the older I get, the less I am willing to accept something that’s not just right in my work.”
Movement has been a consistent theme in Bernard’s oeuvre, which ranges from kinetic sculpture and gestural painting, to painting with a pendulum, sculpture racing contraptions, spring shoes, and finger painting.
Recently, Bernard experienced a bout of creative block. She had finished her Amphibious Tiny House project, which consumed her for 2017. She felt a bit lost and spent the next few months fighting going to her studio because it was painful to be in there. To ease back in, she gave herself permission to do whatever she wanted, as long as she was in the studio. She messed around with paints, drew, took photographs. Most of the work she produced was not good, but she persevered , telling herself that nothing was guaranteed to happen if she didn’t try. And eventually something sparked.
During this period, Bernard read books about the creative process and listened to podcasts on creativity, all the while observing herself and taking notes. She developed a workshop called “Cultivating Creativity,” in which she guides students through playful exercises that inspire, build creative confidence, and generate ideas, leaving them with an arsenal of go-to strategies they can revisit for inspiration.
Bernard just turned 53 and she feels a sense of time passing. She has become increasingly selective about the kind of work she does and where she exhibits. “I don’t want to waste time and energy spinning my wheels on what’s not meaningful.”
Throughout her career, Gail Spaien has explored the question of how to bring the natural world into a static gallery setting. Her paintings translate the sensations around her with concentrated detail, depicting an idealized view of nature and a denial of unpleasant things. She paints the world as she would like it to be and invites the viewer to experience a painting as an object that holds an opportunity for contemplation, physical intimacy and affective power.
A painter of ‘weather and seasons,’ Spaien feeds her studio practice by working in her garden. She says that she has come to appreciate the symmetry of landscape design through hours spent composing an image and arranging her garden to create a form of balance that is both stable and active.
And Spaien admits that she is lost a lot. Her strategy, like that of Wolyniec, Ellison, and Bernard, is simply to keep working. That is followed by taking walks in all kinds of weather, as well as looking at art in person and in books.
At this time in her career, Spaien refuses to worry about whether she is doing it right anymore. This has, at times in the past, hindered her ability to have a particular kind of freedom in the studio. When stuck, she returns to pragmatic, technically-based core questions. Throughout all of her work is the thread of her core inquiry. How, she wonders, can she give form to life’s paradox and poignancy?
My paintings explore visual stimuli either from direct observation or from photographs and drawings made of scenes from my daily life. Lately I have been working on a series of still lifes which are contemplations of a group of objects I have in my studio. I had only planned to make one painting of these objects. However, I have discovered different views of it are intriguing to me for various reasons, so I am making several paintings from alternative views and perspectives. In the way a jazz musician can take a series of chords from a song and make an infinite variety of improvisations from it, I am finding that this still life affords me multiple opportunities for variation on a single theme. The more I come to understand the forms and patterns of light and shape in the set-up, the better I am able to improvise and play with making original compositions. By understanding the fundamentals of the visual stimuli, I can freely express myself by abstracting the most important elements, exaggerating some aspects, minimizing others, and changing still more .
Michelle Leier, “Green Still Life”, oil on panel, 12 x 9 inches, 2018, Jay York
Michelle Leier, “Blue Still Life”, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches, 2017, Jay York
I have been working on The Resilience Project for about eight years. The latest installment is called simply The Map. It is scripted to document, in images and words, my thirty plus years living in rural Central Maine.
My studio practice had been erratic for years and I was unable to make this story meld cohesively. About a year ago I invited some of my favorite archetypes to join me in my working space and they definitely livened up the place.
At first the critters on sticks were so endearing that I became obsessed with making them, thinking maybe they were to become the centerpieces to the story I wanted to tell. Eventually they settled into the background as I returned to my favorite complexity of line drawings, photo grids and words. My studio now has the layered look of a palimpsest landscape where I am comfortable creating.
Sandy Olson “Critters And Places” photograph
Sandy Olson “Icons in Cutouts and Lines” photograph
Sandy Olson “Ma Famille” photograph
Sandy Olson “Mapping Time And Place” photograph
My work has always revolved around still life compositions. In an effort to (literally) expand my horizons I’ve experimented over the past few years with painting plants where they grow, in the context of the garden landscape. This practice expanded the visual field and added a level of complexity that was difficult to achieve with arrangements and props in the studio. On a quest for the perfect still life painting, however, I was still not completely satisfied with the result.
Last Thanksgiving I went to London and spent most of my time in the National Gallery. I had the opportunity to study hundreds of still life paintings “in the flesh” and found myself fascinated by Dutch and Flemish work from the 14th to 16th centuries. The overflowing vases and anonymous backgrounds had never appealed to me in printed images , but the effect of standing in front of the collection was electric. The depth of field in a still life composition is generally quite shallow but the masters of this period managed to represent the universe in a spray of blossoms on a tabletop.
Since the trip I’ve been working toward understanding the Dutch Baroque period constructs and learning how to apply those ideas to the heaps of roses and pumpkins and apple blossoms that will soon be at hand from the garden. Maybe there will be a hermit crab with a basket of blossoms inspired by Balthasar van der Ast, or a bowl of colorful berries and pet birds from van Hulsdonck and George Flegel. I feel like there are decades of inspiration down this road and can’t wait to set up the paintings and get to work.
Pollien finds inspiration in this painting by Balthasar van der Ast
The Italian Vase, 2018, 24 x 18, oil on panel A large vase of coreopsis, cosmos, and zinnias in a traditional still life composition, work in progress
Honeysuckle and Matronalis, 2016, 36 x 24, oil on panel Composition in the garden, image courtesy of anonymous collector
Garden Studio Painting a set-up of fruit and vegetables with drapery
“Photography is a way of shouting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one’s own originality. It is a way of life.”
Living in Paris during the long, cold, grey, windy winter of 2018, my photographs capture moments of LA CRUE when la Seine overflowed its banks by 5.84 meters.
My life, my daily photographic life, consists of meandering with my camera – seeing, composing, focusing, pressing the shutter, winding, rewinding, reloading, and knowing, as Cartier-Bresson also said, that “of course it’s all luck!”
Ruth Sylmor “Crue de la Seine 2018. Pont des Arts” silver print 14 x 11 inches
Ruth Sylmor “Crue de la Seine 2018. Ile de la Cite Bernard” silver print 14 x 11 inches
Ruth Sylmor “Crue de la Seine 2018. Quai St” silver print 14 x 11 inches
Ruth Sylmor “Crue de la Seine 2018. Ile de la Cite Bernard” silver print 14 x 11 inches
The community of Bowdoinham recently built a beautiful, small skateboard park dedicated in memory of Matthew Townsend Parker, who died of viral encephalitis and viral meningitis at the age of 15 in 2004. Since Matthew’s death, efforts to build the park finally came to fruition in 2017. The park is on the Cathance River waterfront in the center of town. Bricks inscribed with donor names comprise the walkway leading into the park, which is surrounded by a wooden fence.
The Merrymeeting Art Center (MAC) in Bowdoinham prioritized the participation of students in creating a mural. They obtained funding for a mural on the inside wall of the park via a grant from the Maine Arts Commission. Three artists were chosen for the project: Jane Page-Conway, mixed media artist, Manon Whittlesay, printmaker, and Karen Goetting, art teacher at the Bowdoinham Community School (BCS).
The fence wall is large, rough and obstructed by support structures on its inner side. This complicated the project’s design. The artists decided that the mural would be made by painting skateboard decks (without the wheels) and then placing them on the fence. They had a local wood worker; Paul Baines, cut the skateboard decks from primed wood.
They had many sessions with the students from Kindergarten thru fifth grade during Karen’s art classes, over a period of 4 weeks. Discussions occurred regarding the physicality and energy of a skateboarder and how one might visually portray this with lines, shapes, color and texture on the boards. Students were limited to two primary colors and no use of symbols or words.
Demonstrations were given on how to use thick paste paints to create pattern and texture with sponge brushes and tools to drag through the paints with cut up plastic lids, pencil erasers, combs and fingers. There were several sessions of cutting stamps for printmaking. The stamps were used following the painting sessions.
The boards are spectacular and will be installed on the fence in the springtime. One boy exclaimed “I can’t wait to see all of the cool skateboards on the fence for the public people to see. I will be able to see all of the boards that were made in my class. I think that the skateboarders will really like looking at this art while they are skating.”
The children of BCS are proud of their artwork and are eager to see what the installation will soon look like.
Craig Sipe, a Mainer now, grew up, as his poem says, in Pennsylvania. But the changing world his speaker describes with poignancy could be any of the mill towns here in Maine as they face decline and try to rebuild themselves. The poem also looks at how our relationship to our original home can both change and remain the same.
Reunion in Beaver Falls (by Craig Sipe)
I am from Beaver Falls Pa,
part of Beaver County,
County Seat in the town of Beaver.
And I can tell you straight-on
that in 27 years I never
saw one damned beaver
…the whole time…
But I did see the night lit up
by blast furnaces all along
the Ohio River Boulevard
on the way to Pittsburgh,
I saw my father bent
by 21 turn shifts in a Cold Draw
pulling pipe, I saw
a thick, gray river
run past the Devout College
On the hill where the mill
fires paid for my brains but burned
my soul in cigarette plumes
over a smoker’s porch
Where the agnostics hung out
over the Beaver River, where
I gave birth to wanting to leave.
I am from Beaver Falls
where the years snuffed out the mills,
laid off a generation,
and seeded the diaspora of the next,
Where every house on every street
was for sale, wishing to dig itself up,
to redeem its soul from mortgage
and the need to change.
Beaver Falls, Beaver County,
County Seat of Beaver,
where a clean blue river
Flows today by a gas station economy,
and the one each legacy
donut and pizza shop still there,
River flowing, falling by me,
stranger on the green bank,
a ghost of quit habits
staring up at the cross on the hill
one bank above the Devout College,
quite the going concern here now,
Hoping for a sign…some portent,
for a blast, for a smoke, for one God
Damned bully beaver.
I have spent most of my time in this physical body contemplating existence. As a child, I would travel out into the night sky to see just how far I could go. Spoiler…I have yet to find an end point.
As a young adult, I spent many years living in a quiet cabin. The land and streams provided a good portion of my food. Trees that were thinned from the surrounding woods gave me warmth and cooking fuel. Water was gravity-fed into my home from an ever-flowing spring. Most of my contemplations during this time were about living in harmony with the ever-changing seasons. I understood my connection and the presence of oneness.
In my middle years, I moved to the dry bones of the American Southwest. The landscape opened my Soul to a deeper night sky. Ancestors roamed the canyons and mesas. Time was arranged in layers and spirals rather than linear.
Once, on a peyote journey, I saw my physical beginnings. Egg and sperm, dividing and multiplying, molecules forming…all of the complexities of my human self…an ultimate creative act.
My father lived to be ninety years old. His mind and hearing had pretty much left him. When I received the call that he was nearing his passing, I drove the 12 hours from my home to his. Arriving at 7:30 pm to the hospital, he was in bed and mumbling in an incoherent manner. I stood quietly watching him. At one moment he opened his eyes and clearly said, “Oh, you are here!” We proceeded to have an unusual lucid conversation which was sustained for 45 minutes. He then fell into a deep sleep. The next day, as I was looking into his eyes and he was looking into mine, he took his last breath. In that moment I saw the entire Universe open.
When my mother died, I sat with her body for a lifetime. She was truly done with her physical body after ninety three and a half years. We buried her the next day. Later in the day, in a sacred grove, I meditated. It was there that I clearly felt my mother’s presence. She gestured with her hand in a high arc from left to right, and I heard her, in a voiceless way, say, “It’s so much more”.
My DNA results confirm both my paternal and maternal lineage, Eastern European Jew and Italian, respectively.
It is all of the above that defines my Origins, from physical to infinite. This is what is expressed in all my creations.
Some would say my origin is that of a female middle child born into a traditional large Irish-Catholic family. Like all of us however, I am many things, but I continue to have fun mining the deep chaotic well of my childhood. My work speaks of traditional female domestic work, large family dinner table banter, growing up in the 60’s. I embroider because, although I wanted to paint, painting was taboo in my family. It was the age of Picasso. We were not going to be encouraged to emulate a philandering foreigner who painted disjointed nudes. Although I paint now, embroidery was my first love and my entry into the world of art. It is still a favorite of mine. I like to embroider anecdotes and funny thoughts I experienced growing up. My original intention was to pass on to my children what I was like as a kid. It only became artwork as the project grew. In hindsight, it reflects how different life was in urban white America fifty years ago, than it is now. I like the contrast.
For me, the annual spring ritual of making ‘Pysanky’, the ancient art form of Ukrainian decorated eggs, is an acknowledgment and celebration of my cultural heritage. The tradition I grew up with, passed down to me by my mother, I now carry on with my family.
It was a natural evolution to depict this iconic symbol in my paintings. So full of meaning and lore, I found endless inspiration in its rich narrative and 5,000 year old history. It was a way of honoring and connecting me to my roots.
Maine has its own character, soul if you wish. I felt it the first morning I woke
up in Maine, in an A-frame on Tom Leighton Point in Washington County, lobster
boats droning off shore, gulls crying, the smell of herring bait. A smudge of islands on the horizon. I had arrived from Scotland, and our two souls bonded. It was love at first sight.
As my work developed, it seemed to be formed by those two places: the
white fishermen’s houses of Jonesport and the whitewashed farms of Scotland; the presence of the Atlantic, sometimes moody and turbulent and other times fresh and clean as linen sheets.
So I worked with those visual stimulants, but the depiction of landscape is
never the end intention. For the creative artist it is the vehicle through which he
expresses something more universal, the landscape of the mind, where we all live no matter our physical location.
John Marin’s seascapes are not just about Maine scenery; “The Written Sea”
comes to mind, a favorite of mine. Marsden Hartley’s paintings of Mount Katahdin
are presences that go beyond Maine—they have the grandeur of a Tahitian god or a Greek hero, like Heracles.
So does it matter where we live? I think it does, for each artist finds his
comfort zone, a place he feels connected to. Van Gogh in Provence, Marin in
Addison, de Kooning on Long Island. It is a place that allows us to communicate
with our surroundings. We use the props at hand, be they hills or harbors; in my
case, clouds, islands, and boats. But are they any different from cypress trees, vineyards, and wheat fields? The trail of a lobster boat echoing the horizon is just,
for me, a necessary line in the composition, which strengthens the final expression.
Artists talk to their surroundings, but not in any local language; after all,
artists are forever from away.
The word Ubuntu, meaning “I am myself because of who we all are”, is a call and a reminder that we, as individuals, are connected to all people, especially in an increasingly globalized world.
What has been a core issue in my own work broadens this concept to “I am myself because we live on Earth” and the responsibility this brings. While we each carry on with our day to day lives, the knowledge that gives us is a much larger context in which to place ourselves. Information about the smallest of particles to the nature of the universe is now available to most people with the click of a button. The more we know, the heavier the responsibility can weigh.
The paintings I’ve chosen here, done since 2002, seek to examine our place in the world, what we depend on for life as we know it, and potential threats to this. While there are no human figures in my work, it is all about being human. While the work is representational, it is abstract in concept. The paintings are asking the viewer to think about these considerations. For example, in the painting Origin, I contemplate the nature of fire: what is its relationship to light and color, its use as a metaphor, and more significantly, its role in the maintenance of life on a micro and macro level?
In the end, I’m shouting out to the world, “Please don’t take this all for granted, it is precious and fragile.”
“In times of darkness humor carries me forward. These Sandwiches were all made before this particular troubling time, but all reflect the need to face adversity and lunacy with laughter and art.” – Lin Lisberger
The light in these dark times often needs to come from within as well as from the community. Seeing beauty in natural forms helps us respond as creative people. Out of the deep forest, the entangled garden and the storm light and strength can come. Going to nature is my response to assert the interconnectedness of all beings.
During this time when the world seems askew and inside-out, I turn to poetry.
The Peace of Wild Things By Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I created Rainbow Warrior 31 years ago in response to the removal of native families in the Four Corners area of the southwest from their tribal native lands around Big Mountain. They were relocated so The Peabody Coal Company could strip mine coal. The elders were not happy.
Still today, the energy wars continue as fossil fuel companies plunder sacred native lands and threaten our planet. The elders standing, dancing and praying peacefully on the frigid grounds of Standing Rock shine light into the dark drive of these energy companies. In the drive for profits, the Dakota Access Pipeline aims to move dirty oil at the price of harming our water supplies, disregarding native lands and the rights of tribal treaties and agreements and destroying our planet.
May many Rainbow Warriors fight on!
Walking in nature has been the place where I’ve found light in the current atmosphere of political darkness. It is the place where I’m able to breathe and let all the daily political news dissipate from my mind. I’ve recently used my painting to express my belief that nature is not here to be dominated. It is not a commodity to be used to increase our standard of living or to increase our amount of consumption.
There are so many problems right now with water and food production that it is imperative that we begin to think globally about what is happening to the world’s resources. We must recognize and honor our interdependence with nature and realize that we are all connected by it. We must consume less, pollute less, share more, recycle more, protect nature, and create a more sustainable earth.
Selected and edited definitions of “light” from Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary 2nd edition.
luminous energy, electromagnetic radiation to which the organs of sight react
to come into existence or being
the aspect in which a thing appears or is regarded
something that affords illumination
to brighten with animation or joy
the state of being visible
a gleam or sparkle in the eyes
spiritual awareness; enlightenment
to accept or understand
to be discovered or revealed, to begin
The theme of enlightenment is dear to my heart. In art, I attempt to depict the highest level of love and wisdom “i” can conceive of. Routinely, little buddha-like images pop out on small papers; I search for the higher-self in life drawings and portraits; paint plant paintings enthusiastically in the garden; and explore outer/inner space tirelessly in meditation and the abstract realm.
Artwork Included: a recent pastel portrait of a baby doctor-to-be drawn from life; a response to two teenage self-immolations – in Tibet and India – protests on the same day against Chinese rule in Tibet – 3/2016; two light tributes to the Buddha, dharma and sangha.
Inspiring Quote from Leonardo da Vinci:
“You must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will then be powerless to vex your mind.”
My paintings are an expression of the ironic space between the mundane that i can influence and the BIG PICTURE stuff that remains beyond my reach. Especially in these times, when we’re confronted by powerlessness, dissolving truths, and even the end of our planet, how does one carry on — whether it’s picking-up a toothbrush or a paintbrush? My “Before the Flood” series uses figurative abstraction to embody this disconnect between singular actions and nothingness.
These works explore aspects of cooperation. They explore issues that commonly arise within ourselves and with each other.
Two implicit questions:
1. Self and other—what might we make of them?
2. What is involved in cooperating toward ends that we all seek? Among those ends: peace, harmony, compassion toward each other (in spirit and in deed), shared prosperity, mutual tolerance and respect, equality (i.e., of access to opportunity, power, privilege, liberty, etc.).
“The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” Emma Lazarus
Lisa Mossel Vietze
I picked up a camera in 1998 with the intention of making landscape images full of drama with grand, far-off vistas in which I could hope to escape from childhood misery.
But what my images came to reveal is the power and intimacy of smaller landscapes, like that of a flower. I was increasingly drawn to the subtleties of petal, leaf and stem; I stopped chasing the horizon and began to search my own backyard.
A flower is the plant’s highest expression of self, as well as a promise of a new generation, giving of its energy for creating seeds. I’m often in awe of the color or design when I’m making a flower image. In this process, I continue to heal.
Flowers … become like messengers from another realm, like a bridge between the world of the physical form and the formless.
[ some words from Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth.]