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the wholeI'm back from a very satisfying time in Ireland, where I spent six weeks at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation in County Mayo. My exhibit in the gallery there, and the connections made and strengthened with other artists deepened my overall experience. Plus I taught some great people, had some wonderful visitors, and good adventures.
This was my fifth time at Ballinglen and while many aspects of the landscape inform my work, each time I've been there a particular aspect of the surroundings has stood out as most compelling and important. The first year it was the rugged seacoast, and in other years it was the bog plants, the hedgerows, and the moving water of surf and stream. On a walk to the beach on my last morning in Ballycastle, I asked myself what had been most significant for me this time.
Moving Water #1, acrylic on paper, 29"x38" 2016
It was a misty day, with the fields along the lane glowing in many shades of green, and the huge rocks on the shore appearing rugged yet soft in the atmosphere. Crows and seabirds flew overhead. The surf pulsed and foamed like breath, and the sand shifted and flowed where it met the sea. The kelp lay in odd lumps and twisted mounds. For a while I simply took this all in and thought of nothing much. Then the answer came...what was significant for me this time was everything...all of it, without labels or categories or boundaries. For a moment, on the beach, I sensed the perfection of everything fitting together in a magnificent whole. And that went beyond what I saw and sensed in this particular place--it was about the perfect interlocking of elements. The way that nature has a presence and rightness that arises from its individual parts but is more powerful than any one thing.
bog plants, County May0
As I walked back to Ballinglen I thought about this some more. What I experienced on the beach resonated with changes in my work over the past year or so. I've been looking for a different kind of expression, less tied to particular locations and more about the fitting together of parts. I've been interested in the idea that power and presence, intimacy and intricacy all exist together. That the deep beauty of the landscape arises from the presence of these seemingly contradictory elements. In my work I've been working with the strength of shape and contrast, while retaining the subtle and delicacy of texture and layered nuance. I have to smile a little at my circuitous journey with abstraction. Looking back, one of my first conceptual leaps-- about fifteen years ago-- was to realize that an essence of a place could be found in its details. Rather than the traditional view of landscape with its horizon lines and pictorial illusions, I began exploring the idea that the close-up textures of rock or the rich colors of foliage could convey a feeling of connection with nature in general, and relate to specific places as well. I don't think I have lost that idea-- the microcosm still fascinates me, and I continue to want parts of my work to reflect detail and specificity. But I also want to craft these parts into something strong, a fitting together of small bits and pieces into a bigger whole. And rather than evoking particular locations, I'm interested now in a more universal idea of the complex beauty and power of nature.
Shelter, 42"x36" oil/cold wax on panel 2017
Passing Through, 24"x20" oil/cold wax on panel, 2017; painted at Ballinglen Arts Foundation
These ideas have been percolating for months, but I've only just begun to work with them consciously. I'm excited to see where they take me. With only one workshop left to teach in 2017 (next week in Oakland, with Jerry) I'm looking forward now to the winter months ahead--I'll be in New Mexico with Don through early March, painting (and maybe even relaxing a little!) A time to slow down and process. I am thinking about large work, and about perhaps returning to my old multiple panel format as a way to introduce more contrast. Looking ahead, my teaching schedule in 2018 is by design very minimal. I want to make good use of the time I've cleared for my own work, and ideas are coming together...
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