Small works

Processes have always fascinated me. From the mystery of how the Incas erected those infinitely precise stone walls of Machu Picchu to the freedom and directness with which Morris Louis poured his acrylic washes. As a young girl I brought home reproductions of Louis' poured work I had just seen at the National Gallery of Art, awed by the immediacy of his method and color. Later I discovered Richard Diebenkom, his rich surfaces a diary of each painting's history. Then it was on to Antoni Tapies, Magadalena Abakanowicz, and many more. As I experienced my own process of becoming an adult, I began to see the analogy being played out in my art work. The process of making art is a mirror to me of the process of living. We, as human beings, like the universe in which we live, are constantly changing. One can never erase one's history. Each experience has an effect on whom we become. A painting can work the same way. It can be a record of experiences; decisions made, accidents, paths followed for a time then abandoned for a different destination. The traces of these avenues once pursued can add to the richness of the work of art, as they add to the richness of our lives. Mary Catherine Bateson discusses this concept in her book, Composing a Life, " ... you begin to see these lives of multiple commitments and multiple beginnings as an emerging pattern rather than an aberration .... Each such model, like each individual work of art, is a comment about the world outside the frame .... the individual effort to compose a life, framed by birth and death and carefully pieced together from disparate elements, becomes a statement on the unity of living." Painting has provided me a venue in which to synthesize the multiple aspects of process. All of my pieces begin with the same foundation; layers of acrylic paste, rice papers and canvas. This consistent beginning is reflective of personality qualities that are thought to be in place at birth. Then, I begin a lengthy process of applying countless layers of semi-transparent washes of acrylic, oil and dissolved oil pastel. The washes often drip and puddle as they dry. These 'accidents' enhance a depth of surface and are intentionally left as evidence of the process involved. Each layer alters the whole, echoing the way in which the events in our lives affect the person we become. Transparent washes are applied until a surface is achieved rich in color and depth, appearing something like rusted metal, alluding to the passage of time. Each piece is an accumulation of layers, as each person is an accumulation of experiences, which, over time, contribute to a depth of character. The ragged edges are deliberately exposed to offer important clues to the history and material composition of the piece. From a distance my work appears uniform. The variety and depth of color and richness of surface are only apparent at close range. In order to entice the viewer to get a closer look, each piece is small (4" x 6") and object like. When one stops to look they are rewarded by the sumptuous color and a sense of depth. The same is true of human relationships. Only by spending time together can we get to know one another. By inducing the viewer to approach my work I establish a sense of intimacy with them reminiscent of an old friendship. The exhibition consisted of 37 pieces, installed in one continuous line, running around the gallery walls. They hung at eye level, spaced two feet apart, not unlike giant letters on a page. Upon entering you were surrounded by a progression of tiny abstract paintings all quite similar but each clearly different. There were five distinct 'phases,' varying in overall color similar to the progression of seasons. Within the phases, the paintings evolve from one to the next. As these pieces are a personal statement about human growth, each is a self-portrait at a specific point in my life. They speak about process individually, however, as a group, they function as a visual diary kept over a long period of time. "The same kind of spiral underlies the shaping and reshaping of identity, as gradually we have more to work with and we become skilled in reconstruction .... The forging of a sense of identity is never finished. Instead, it feels like catching one's image reflected in a mirror next to a carousel-'Here I am again."'