HJ Andrews Artist Residency - Journal Excerpts
Day 1, 9/17/18
On my way to HJA, I spent a few days in Portland with my cousins and visited an exhibition of Richard Diebenkorn’s early work and the Japanese Garden. Both have been important influences in my work: Diebenkorn’s explorations in line, shape, and color, how he creates space and depth, a suggestion of landscape. Japanese aesthetics is likewise sparse, each element in a garden is carefully chosen—shape and texture, framing, drawing the eye from foreground to background.
How can I concentrate the elements of this place—the shapes, colors, textures, layers—to convey time/timelessness, the particular and the universal?
Day 2, 9/18/18
The night before my arrival at HJA I spent with Judy Li and her husband. So happy to connect with scientists who are interdisciplinary thinkers, who see the necessity of art to engage people in this living, complex, wondrous earth, our beloved who is threatened by our daily acts, large and small.
Yesterday, Fred Swanson gave me a tour of the HJA facility and nearby research sites. Of particular interest was the log decomposition site. I knew of and had envisioned it as antiseptic, an operating theater. To the contrary, it was beautiful, mysterious, and ancient; moss-covered logs evidencing the cycles of growth and decay, death and rebirth; a mossy, spongy carpet of living detritus.
Today I hope to get my piece done for an entry to a publication, a contemporary herbal titled “Becoming Botanical,” and gesso the wood painting panels I brought.
Day 3, 9/19/18
The Becoming Botanical project is a collaboration with a friend in India. We were to select a plant to discuss and depict, as in historical herbals, though the approach was our choice. Geetu selected rice and wrote about kolam: designs drawn by women on sidewalks and doorsteps using rice powder. I viewed a few videos. The technique is confounding—how someone can simply take a pinch of powder and draw a complex design. The process seems to take little time, whereas it took me the morning to work out a design based on a photo Geetu sent me!
I took a lovely walk along the Discovery Trail before lunch. The forest is alive with ferns, moss and lichens.
After lunch, I drew a rice stalk to accompany my kolam design. I used stippling for the kolam to give it an ethereal quality, like a watermark. I will ink the rice stalk this morning and send it off. I want to start on my forest work—take photos and collect samples of lichens. They are fascinating and beautiful.
Day 4, 9/20/18
I can now put my attention on being here and making work about this place. I walked down to the stream and took photos. I picked up some lichens, and a leaf turning color and starting to decay. I want to start my color studies today and try out using the watercolor ground I brought.
Day 5, 9/21/18
Yesterday I did a drawing of a branch with lichens on it. I love their color—a dusty grey-green. In the afternoon, I tried out the watercolor ground on a small wood panel, painting the colors and textures of the decaying leaf. It came out fairly well, but the paint picks up easily when I re-wet the surface. Not sure I like that. I will try the same approach with the acrylics. I also want to do some color charts for mixing greens.
Thinking about how to “frame” the work I want to do here—a format and context: wunderkammer, sampler, a walk, a puzzle, a collage or print made of different visual elements.
The Blue River Writers’ Gathering starts this evening. Part of me doesn’t want to be interrupted since I am just getting into a rhythm, but I think given their theme, “Writing to Reinvent the World,” it will help me think about my focus and concerns in a different way. It was very generous of them to invite me to join them.
Day 5-7 (Notes from the Writers’ Gathering), 9/21 – 9/23/18
Driving questions: How can I synthesize my 40+ years of art-making—the form and content—to inspire people to “love all the children of all the species for all time”? (William McDonough). How can my art ignite people to fall in love with life and the earth?
Practice of gratitude
Imagination as the necessary angel (Wallace Stevens)
Pool of shared meaning
Re = go back
In = go in
Vent = come, arrive
Do no harm
Find a better way
Reimagine our place in the world
What is “my” place? For a long time, my work was focused on #1—sounding the alarm on various environmental crises, while trying to convey the underlying causes (e.g., dichotomizing nature and culture). I became exhausted by it. Number 3 – this is where I am headed, and that is to take our place in the diverse community of life—both human and non-human.
Kim Stafford (Oregon’s 9th poet laureate):
Personal: This happened to me
Community: This happened to us
Day 8-9, 9/24-25/18
My momentum is building this week as I have uninterrupted time to work. I love the mystery and discovery of what the paint will do. I love to draw the small details of the forest; I drew a twig yesterday. It is the act of attention and observation. It is a prayer, a meditation, these humble works. I must continue despite the voices and doubts.
My big takeaways from Kim Stafford:
Write a draft with promise – a painting/drawing with promise
What is the story only you can tell?
A definition that strays: start with a fact/definition [drawing what I see] then stray into the imagination [the colors, textures, come into focus and the edges, delineations recede]
Writing for [not about] a place
Day 10, 9/26/18
Yesterday I worked on four 4” x 4” pieces trying to capture the color and textures of the lichen I gathered. It’s so easy to overwork these pieces and then they start all looking the same. Today I want to put finishing touches on the small pieces and start some larger ones, plus do a drawing, maybe on-site at the river. The days are going crazy fast. I want to walk away and feel I have accomplished something here.
Day 11, 9/2/18
Yesterday I spent the day working. I didn’t even take a walk. I started several of the 6” squares. I think I finally got the green I was after but not the browns. I put together one of my lichen paintings with the twig drawing and really like the combination—the drawing being very detailed and the painting abstract, zooming in on the color and pattern. I was thinking of adding text, but I don’t think it is needed. I like the Zen, simplified, paired-down approach (I always have). I also like the idea of making prints for the abstract part, try some different approaches when I get home: woodcut overlaying colors and textures, collagraph, monotype overlapping colors. Maybe a solarplate for the detailed image? Then make a small series that reflects a site, park, walk, ecosystem.
Only two days left after today. I am happy that this new direction is emerging that will give me work to build on when I return. I like that I am integrating the botanical work I’ve been doing, and revealing another aspect to it. A draft with promise!
Day 12, 9/29/18
I am trying to wrap up my time here. Though I’ve not really “completed” anything, I feel I’ve developed the basis for some new work, including some prints. Maybe a limited edition giclee print. I’ve greatly enjoyed my time here despite the workspace being less than ideal. The light has been very challenging, making it difficult to determine my colors. But being this close to trails, water, and immersed in nature has fed me. I must continue when I return—walks and hikes and getting to know the place where I am. Making art for my place.
Day 13, 9/29/18
This is my last full day here at the Andrews. It’s overcast this morning—the first since I’ve been here other than rain last Saturday. I’ve been graced with clear, blue skies—nice for me, but drought conditions.
So what are my take-aways from my time here?
I need to have a daily studio practice if only for an hour or two.
Spend regular, weekly time in nature, observe seasonal changes, and record them through art/photography.
Draw more, often, including sketching outside in my garden.
Explore overlaps between painting, drawing, and printmaking
Explore relationship between realism and abstraction
Love and get to know my place—Western PA; take advantage of what is being offered (e.g., walks)
Limit social media and email time
Be happy, love life and nature, gratitude
Limit what I’ve committed to vs. studio time
I’m looking forward to going/being home. I feel a renewed sense of appreciation for the life I’ve created in Pittsburgh. It is rich and full with many friends and a community of nature lovers.
Day 14, 9/30/18
A wonderful, wet ride out of Andrews back to Salem through the mountains. The leaves are turning—splashes of gold edging the lush greenery of the highway. I stopped at a waterfall—the headwaters of the McKensie River. Stunning—dripping green, dense trees, clear blue rushing water. Vibrant, pulsing with life.