The Deterioration of the Soul, depicts what happens to one’s essence (being “in balance”) when constantly confronted by negativity and demoralizing behavior. I have seen this syndrome when someone is involved with a narcissistic personality. One’s inner core is thrown off balance and slowly rots away to a state of “imbalance.”
It is not the building, but the vantage point of the photographer that offers this photo its sense of being in balance and also an imbalance. It is the parallax angle that shows the distortion of the building as the photo is taken from street level looking up. The cropping, done through the viewfinder, offers the sense of balance as it is level at the top of the picture and gives the impression of everything hanging down. The size of the lens would not matter to make the whole composition balanced at right angles. I am using a through-the-lens viewfinder (this is not a reaction to using a rangefinder camera where the viewfinder does not view through the lens). This is also the angle you get at my height of five-foot-five. The taller I could get, the more the picture would straighten out towards right angles, incorporating more balance. My primary focus is on the cannonball in the brick wall. Although small, its movement when I move around it on the street alters the angles of the building and windows, giving the impression of being imbalanced. This photo will look balanced and imbalanced at the same time.
George Pocock, referenced in the book Boys in the Boat, an account of the University of Washington’s eight-man rowing crew and its ascension to represent the US in the 1936 Olympics, spoke often about balance in life and rowing.
An eight-man rowing shell (sixty feet long and twenty-four inches wide with ten-foot oars) is like a tightrope walker with a balance pole. To prevent crabbing, a
phenomena in which an oar out of sync with all the others risks the ejection of a rower from the boat or capsizing, there is absolute need for synchrony with
effort and cadence.
Exhibit size limits put fewer boys in the boat. Thematically I’ve tried to capture the mandates of personal and civilization’s survival summed up by Pocock as “harmony, balance, and rhythm.”
The painting Calm is intended to ask if a state of “calm” is absolute or relative to the time or situation. There may be a different standard for “calm” in 2023 than there was in 1999 or 2013. Being “calm” may have meant something different by degrees or completely different when one was nineteen years old than when one is sixty-three years old—relative balance when one’s world is in a state of relative imbalance.
Or is the “calm” one feels absolute and transcendent of any particular circumstance, or season of one’s life—absolute balance regardless of the degree of imbalance in one’s world?
There’s never been a more illustrative reality of the sharp separation of housed/homeless, cared about/neglected, loved/lost. The scorched earth expanse between that ever-expanding divide is terrifying. The exit from so many of those choices is narrow and closed.
Do you have heat? A clean bed? A shower and food at the ready?
The three secondary colors, orange, green, and violet, visually represent the tones of a major triad—if you see (hear) two, the third naturally completes (balances) the concept for me. This painting employs the three secondaries to contrast texture and smoothness in nearly exactly equal parts. It was a surprise painting; I thought I was going to paint an abstract composition, and started by pretty much slinging paint, but this imaginary location evolved quickly to change my mind, which speaks to the balance of the conscious and unconscious mind required of the artist, and hopefully, of the appreciator as well.
Humans are out of balance with Nature. We take too much and put bad things into the water and air. We create chaos in our climate leading to floods and droughts, destruction of homes and infrastructure, and disruption of food production. Our placement of importance on humans has created this imbalance.
We have controlled Nature, bending it to our every whim and “need.” The Earth has been resilient, but it has a breaking point. And when it breaks, Nature is not the one who will suffer. It will be our little human selves.
It Does Matter visually describes the grace and beauty of balance. Maintaining this balance is essential. It reminds us of what awaits us if we can make the necessary changes.
The Renaissance notion of cosmography, that pictures can be a simulacrum of the world and not just a representation of it, appeals to me. I am fascinated by the attempt to embrace philosophical themes through visual images and by the historic conflation of physics, metaphysics, and moral order.
The Fool’s Journey is a book of twenty-three etchings of the major arcana of the traditional tarot deck modeled on Renaissance graphic representations of the cosmos. It is a visual portrayal of a philosophical worldview, each image presenting an archetype of human experience and a parallel, symbolic element or quality of the physical world. Judgment represents the Egyptian belief that the heart recorded all the deeds of a person’s life, and at death was weighed against the feather of Maat (goddess of truth and justice). If the heart balanced with the feather, the soul was deemed worthy of eternal life.
Shattering Beliefs speaks to the theme of In Balance/Imbalance by breaking free from the chain that tethers one to a shaky and fearful foundation.
The balance is thrown into an imbalance when one becomes who they are meant to be, not who others think they should be or how they should act. As the unicorn, pegasus, and dragon horse pair up with a Warrior Woman, together they shake up what society thinks they should look like and act like. They are embracing their uniqueness and becoming themselves. They will fly and become the shining star that they were meant to be, when their safe foundation crumbles below them.
Perceptions and Illusions is speaking to the theme of In Balance/Imbalance and the interpretation of it. Just like an optical illusion it is meant to make one think and wonder about what is real and what is implied, and is there more than one way to interpret it.
Perceptions and Illusions uses equilateral triangular-shaped loads on a long narrow rectangular shape which is in turn balanced on a smaller equilateral triangle. Is there a balance to the composition? How many triangles do you see? Do you see three, four, or even eight triangles?
Lived experience of watching four individuals navigate from the same starting point greatly influenced my creation of this abstract expression of questioning what is balanced or equal yet at the same time different, due to having different perspectives or interpretations of the same facts.
Balancing After Birth is the sixth of my Yoni Vessel series. Each piece in the series embodies a different female energy; this one about the experience of birth and the subsequent physical/spiritual/emotional unbalancing that often follows. The vessel is intentionally wobbly. A support ring wound with local lambswool lends stability for display. Handbuilt from red earthenware fiber-clay, the vessel was stretched in the body from the inside, then burnished.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
—Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”
These figures are connected to the rock itself. They represent the feeling of being in balance with the power and monolithic aspect of cliffs and rock. They are one with it but also dominate it. They are relaxed in it and derive power from its qualities. There is balance, here, and peace.
The Portland gallery of the Union of Maine Visual Artists (Portland Media Center, 516 Congress Street) hosts a July show on our theme, In Balance/Imbalance, whose participants are all included in this issue in three Showcases.
Image at top: Mildred Bachrach, The Deterioration of the Soul, mixed media, 34 x 60 in., 2023.