My recent move to a new residence took the wind out of my sails for a bit, especially since I fell prey to a cold almost immediately following my landing. The necessity of making the bills always prevails, so there’s been more time catching up with web clients and planning classes than in the studio lately. Whenever I can’t get into the studio much, I set myself to achieve at least some small accomplishments there, so I finished this little self-portrait that I began earlier last year (above). It’s not a perfect semblance, but it feels like me. The little bird floats above the abstract patterning of dendrites (the branched projections of neurons that communicate with each other through electrochemical stimulation). My father was a biologist, so I’ve always had a fascination with the subject, though my understanding of it is more mystical than scientific. (Incidentally, it doesn’t bother me that tree branches are reflected in the glass of this photo, as it seems to add to the theme in this context).
Part of what forced me to complete this little painting is that a collector of my work wanted to purchase it. They also bought a painting that I created earlier in my career:
“The Captive Heart” was created shortly after I finished an artist’s residency in Colorado, so I think the date goes back to 1994-5. I have to admit that I’m a rather poor chronological-er of my own work. During my early career, it was enough for me to remember to sign my artworks, much less put a date on them.
A little about “The Captive Heart”:
First of all, the theme (as one might guess) is one of emotional vulnerability, of feeling that one’s heart is exposed. The figure of the woman is inspired by an image of a Mexican sculpture of Mary… and I’ve place her in a room flooded with water (symbolic of swimming in an emotional space). A mocking-bird flies within this captive space, delivering a flower. The sticks with holes drilled in them are a reference to a little illustration I found in my father’s Scientific American magazine. The referenced article was illustrating the path of a bird as it collected seeds in a controlled experiment (i.e., the flight-line represents the path the bird took when either collecting or depositing seeds within the branches). As an added mystery to the story-line of this visual puzzle, a man is portrayed outside the window, collecting branches. I leave it to the viewer to decipher the meaning of all this personal iconography.
Some of the things that continue to inspire me is the similarity of the patterning of branches and the branching of arteries/veins. And birds… which are ever-present in my works, for reasons that are not entirely clear to my self. I suppose I see them as messengers of spirit.
Another important note (for me) about this painting is that it was the piece that signaled a change in my way of working. Though it is painted on illustration board, the “open heart” and window gave me the idea for painting on layers of plexiglass, which gave me a way of creating images behind images (or images above and below, on separate panels). Today, I go back and forth between painting on wood panels and painting on plexi. I love the 3-dimensional layering that’s created in my plexi-paintings, but it is also something that slows me down and forces me to be more precise. For this reason, I’ve decided to limit its use to my smaller paintings in the future. When I want to work more spontaneously, I’ll work on larger panels or canvases.
The couple who bought this piece also bought one other earlier piece of my work which was also a step in my development towards painting on different levels, rather than a singular flat surface. “The Connection” was painted around 1993, while I was an artist-in-residence at Anderson Ranch, in Colorado.
I had a strong desire to break out of the picture plane, so I used a scroll-saw to cut the shapes of the tree , and the aveoli that makes up the woman’s body. (Alveoli are tiny sacs in the lungs that perform gas exchange, allowing the body to get rid of carbon dioxide and convert it to oxygen). Her lungs are actually fed by the tree (the branch on the left turns into her veins)… symbolizing this exchange of carbon dioxide to oxygen. Behind them is a sky filled with stars and a red curtain (the theatre of life)… a sculpture (borrowed from some cathedral?) that represents the idea that this life can be cut off at any time…. also a man witnessing the scene, and a couple doves with vegetation and flowers. The woman’s face seems Victorian (if not Queenly). I don’t even recall how I arrived at this theme. I tend to be a gatherer of images… and even if I don’t glue them down into collages, I often borrow a “little of this, a little of that” from various sources, allowing myself to re-sort them in ways that make sense to my painter’s hand. Thus, science, mythology and art history are synthesized within my aesthetic realm.