Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A place is also determined by the micro or macro perspective, not just by our own myopic views of it. I've mentioned previously that I would like to work on aerial views of a place, having spent a lot of time flying in and out of Missoula in the past two years. Aerial views are the counterpoint to both my interest in minute details and my reality here on the ground. They help me to see that I am both small and insignificant, yet simultaneously a contribution to the life force on this planet. This is my first attempt at combining the macro and micro world. This piece is titled Lichen on the Valley. It's quite literal. The Missoula valley is surrounded by the Northern Rockies, and I've covered it with lichen. This piece consists of two layers. The bottom layer is a line drawing in ink on cotton rag paper. The top layer is a dots drawing in ink on vellum. The vellum does not rest snugly against the bottom layer, which then gives this piece an ethereal feel (perhaps not clear in this image). A dots drawing means that I have created my image with thousands and thousands of tiny ink dots. To me this piece looks like an old worn tapestry. And can you see the thread of highway 90 cutting diagonally through it?

The image of a pleasant place. It's often the idea of something that appeals to me more than the reality of it. Admittedly, I spend more time looking at this pleasant spot than sitting in it. The colors are what attract me. The bright red of my neighbor's barn as seen behind my apricot tree. That red glows through my studio window, better than any oil painting I could create, at the brightest times of day. The cool pistachio of the plastic Adirondack chair is a great compliment to the red. And then the blue skies of Missoula. Ahh. . . those skies. This is a happy place!!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Weather is a place. It is a place within a place. When we experience it, it colors the location. It can define the location. We bring it to each new location; that is, we bring our experience with a particular weather with us from place to place and can be reminded of each place in which we've experienced it.

Upon awakening the past two mornings, I've heard rain hitting the hard, dry ground. Many would take this as an excuse to stay under the covers. I immediately get out of bed and go sit by an open window. As long as it doesn't bring bitter cold with it, I enjoy rain, even more so in a hot, dry, Western Montana August. Rain's patter invites me to pick up a book and read by the window, even before breakfast, the computer, or a shower. It's a gift for the day.

Nostalgia sets in as I remember rains that washed away the sticky heat of summers in Connecticut or New Jersey. You open the windows wide. The rain pours out of the sky, bouncing off plants in the backyard. I can't read with this rain. I must watch it, feel it. The green of that rain is brilliant. My gardens are drunk laden with every drop.

Riding the train to the small town of Nikko in Japan - with the Toshogu Shrine and Mausoleum dedicated to the Shogunate of Tokugawa Ieyasu - soft rain begins to fall in the cedar groves along the tracks. Stepping outside the train, I find the rain to really be the falling away of mist, lots of mist. I walk alone through this town, treating myself to green tea and snacks in a local shop, windows wide open, the musty smell of damp wood, speaking only Japanese. The day is colored by that mist, that moisture, the low grey sky. The day is heaven.

Hiking Deception Pass in Puget Sound, Washington, with Kelly and Neil, undeterred by the rain, prepared for it with parkas, the rain here, the cedar and cypress here, I'm back in Japan. I'm outside in it. The rain is the place; it's just that the scenery and location on the map have changed.

Here now, August in Montana, my window seat is the place that sits by the rain. The rain that sends up images from past rain and place experiences. The rain has stopped. Perhaps that's it for today, this week, the rest of this month. But I'll remember this rain, like all the others. I hold onto these weather as place conceptions and recollections.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Months after photographing the veil of fog on Whidbey Island (see the previous post), I created this pastel drawing on cotton paper. I used two colors of soft pastels - blue and gray. The blue is rubbed into the paper, creating a solid, yet finely muted background for the sky and water. The gray was delicately added to suggest the hills and pines across the cove and to suggest three birds in the water. The birds were the only sights and sounds of life in the foggy cove. This piece does not clearly resemble what I actually saw, but to me, it has the spirit of that morning. I have never done a pastel landscape before but would like to try it again - with the softest and most subtle of colors.

One November morning in Penn Cove on Whidbey Island outside of Seattle, we awoke to a thick veil of fog. It was one of the most ethereal sites I'd ever seen, and I wanted to capture its essence on paper.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Karakoram Mountains

Seeing our place from afar really shakes our perspective and greatly minimizes our importance.

I've been thinking about aerial views a lot these past couple of years, especially as I fly in and out of Missoula, over vast mountain ranges. I study those views from my window seat. (I must always have a window seat, not only for the view, but also because I can create my little nest up against that window.) I try to imagine myself simultaneously in two places, on the ground and in the air. Am I gigantic or am I teeny? Am I surrounded by that which grows out of the ground or am I not really a part of it? Am I vulnerable in both places or protected in one?

More importantly for me as an artist, aerial views provide a gallery of inspiring artistic forms. Look at the pattern in this aerial view of the Karakoram Mountains of Pakistan, China, and India. Surrealistically, the snow capped ridges appear to be a tapestry of thick, woolly, twisted skeins. But it is of this world, albeit photographed beyond the Earth's atmosphere from the Space Shuttle, Discovery in 1993.

I'll start by figuring out how to draw the ridges, folds, and gaps of mountain tops and move on to possibly painting these amazing earth designs. Can we imagine the designs of the Earth in two places at once? That which is right in front of us everyday and that which is so real, so grand, so expansive, so universal, and yet rarely ever seen?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Here is an art installation on sound in a place - Central Park.

Sound Tunnel: Avant-Garde Park Portrait
Published: July 5, 2009 - The New York Times

The elegantly arched pedestrian tunnel just north of the Central Park Zoo is never a tranquil place. Every half-hour it is filled with “Georgie Porgie” and “Old King Cole” and other nursery-school war horses ringing out from the George Delacorte clock chimes nearby. Convoys of summer campers passing through on their way to the Tisch Children’s Zoo shriek and shout and send the word “echo” echoing off the 140-year-old sandstone brickwork.

The composer John Morton inside a tunnel, just north of the Central Park Zoo, that features a random collage of sounds he recorded all around the park.

The tunnel north of the Central Park Zoo has been outfitted with speakers to present a composer’s collection of park sounds.

“I see adults who get in there and let loose,” said John Morton, a composer who has been spending a lot of time around the tunnel lately. “Tunnels are weird kinds of public places that way. You lose your inhibitions inside them. Here’s this place in the middle of Manhattan where you feel like you can scream.”

For the last month — thanks to Mr. Morton, six high-end speakers, a computer and a generous helping of musical avant-garde smuggled into the city’s populist playground — the tunnel itself has found a voice: a strange, urgent one that screams, whispers, sings, declaims poetry and recreates the multifarious sounds of the park around it, from jackhammers and horses’ hooves to cracking winter ice.

Mr. Morton, whose work is in the tradition of John Cage and who is known for rebuilding old music boxes and remixing their tunes, approached Central Park officials a couple of years ago. His idea was to construct a kind of aural portrait of the park, using field recordings he would make over many months of wandering around it with a high-definition recorder.

Clare Weiss, the curator of the public art program for the New York City Parks and Recreation Department, had long wanted to commission a temporary artwork for one of Central Park’s many tunnels, where a video or sound piece could be sheltered from the elements and also take advantage of a tunnel’s acoustics. The one near the Delacorte Musical Clock (at East 65th Street) was chosen because of Mr. Morton’s interest in mechanical music. And with the help of the New York State Council on the Arts and the nonprofit arts organization Harvestworks, he got going.

Conjuring up images of Gene Hackman as the surveillance expert in Francis Ford Coppola’s film “The Conversation,” Mr. Morton moved through the park surreptitiously for more than 40 days over the course of a year, capturing gospel choirs, park-bench arguments, the rattle of dead leaves and the heartbeatlike clack of lawn-bowling balls. He recorded a child practicing a warbling version of “Eleanor Rigby” on a violin and a group singing ethereal Renaissance motets. Carefully avoiding stern-looking school officials, he managed to get a snippet of French boys from the Lycée Français playing basketball and later, at the North Meadow Recreation Center at 97th Street, a ping as clear as polished glass from a baseball caroming off an aluminum bat.

“I had a lot of sounds I knew I wanted to get, but then I just let my ear lead me,” said Mr. Morton, 55, who can lovingly describe the “very specific envelope of dissolve” made by the slamming of a metal hot-dog cart lid.

After recording hundreds of hours of sound, Mr. Morton edited the files down and, using a computer he installed next to a tangle of steam pipes in a zoo building attic, customized a program that samples and mixes the sounds with a degree of randomness. The Delacorte chimes function as a kind of catalyst; when they begin playing, the computer records their music and immediately replays it in disjointed fragments inside the tunnel, before embarking on a 20-minute run of park sounds. (Mr. Morton said he was surprised to find that the chimes, which are controlled from a cabinet in the same attic space he is using, are fully electronic, their quaint old-world bell tones generated by a small, charmless chunk of electronics about the size of a clock radio.)

William Roberts, a hotel room-service worker who installs himself daily on a bench near the tunnel to drink coffee and read the newspaper, said he had at first mistaken the sounds emanating from it for some kind of bizarre enticement to visit the zoo. “But then I heard voices and jackhammers, and I couldn’t figure out what was happening in there,” said Mr. Roberts, who added that as a music lover with extremely catholic tastes, he has been enjoying the daily found-noise concerts (which will continue daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Sept. 10). “I don’t know what to call it,” he said, “but I like it.”

As he spoke, the stentorian voice of the poet Bob Holman, recordings of whom are also mixed into the piece, boomed out of the tunnel with a random salvo of verse that seemed perfectly to fit the moment and the work of art:

Could you — why don’t you —

turn off the TV of the world?

and sit on this bench beside this stranger

go on and question, sigh, and fan, linger

It’s a noise show slow-down

With an idiot’s boom-box suddenly blossoming

into a carousel of characters.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Celebrate this weekend! Celebrate the summer! Celebrate Jayne and Paul's sixty-second wedding anniversary and Kelly and Neil's first. Celebrate the promise. Celebrate the future. Shine and sparkle.

Listen for the sounds of a place. I remember Japan by its sounds - the ting, ting, ting that rings out to warn pedestrians, cyclists, and cars that a train is approaching; the unnaturally high-pitched and drawn out voices of young women welcoming you into a shop with irashaimasssseeeee; the high-pitched and hissing ki, ki, ki, ki of the cicada; the hollow plop of a bamboo pole that when filled with water falls to hit a stone; the reverberating bong of a large and ancient Buddhist bell. I also remember Japan by its smells - of pine and cedar forests, of freshly steamed rice and soy sauce, and of temple incense and mildewed tatami. How challenging but engaging it would be to incorporate some of these sounds and smells into a work of art.

What art have you seen that uses sound and smell? What are your sound and smell memories of place?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The inaugural Montana Triennial opened this past Friday evening and will run through September 24. Beth Sellars, curator of site-specific installations for Suyama Space in Seattle, curated the Triennial. She chose 88 pieces out of 1,800 for the Montana show, pieces ranging from polished silver, to video installations, to photography, to oil and acrylic paintings, to encaustics, to wood-block prints, and to a variety of other pieces in between. As Joe Nickell wrote in the Missoulian, the Montana Triennial focuses on place.

It would be difficult to be an artist in Montana and not focus on place because Montana is a vast state where there is more landscape than architecture and plenty of space to consider the natural world around us. At the very least, it is a state where the concept of place hits you more squarely in the eye than getting hidden in any concrete jungle. And Montanans are proud of their place - often deeming it "the last best." Typically, however, popular Montana art is about realistic landscapes, horses, bears, elk, moose, and fish.

In the Missoulian,* Nickell's writes:

Sellars is the first to call out her own biases. As she culled through the works – initially without the benefit of any information whatsoever about the artists who created them – she quickly eliminated the large volume of traditional Western art that many of us would recognize from art fairs and commercial galleries around the region.

“What tended to bother me the most with so many of those works, it wasn’t like they were replicating what they saw around them, but rather what they’d seen other artists paint or sculpt,” explained Sellars. “I look for work that is taking the subject matter and pushing it in a personal way; so what would normally just be a landscape, to take it to a point where it’s not necessarily recognizable as landscape. … That kind of work is coming from within rather than strictly from without. I feel very strongly that if you’re going to do art, have it come from you.”

Now back to my art and the initial purpose for this blog. Yes, my art comes from within and it is often an interpretation of place. My piece in the Triennial is Behold! The trees., and it is about my trees, the trees on or surrounding my property. It is not a realistic depiction of those trees. I don't care to replicate exactly what I see because a photograph can do that better. Rather, I get at the essence of the place.

Behold! The trees. is one of my Shred Edit pieces. Shred Edits are collages made from my shredded writing, in this case notes about the trees on my property (an enormous silver maple, a tiny and delicate Japanese maple, an unruly apricot, a struggling aspen, a new autumn ash, a caragana, two lilacs, and towering neighboring firs) and my notes to the trees, letting them know that I care for them and will return to them (will return to Missoula) after each of my travels away. These notes were written in black and brown ink and pencil and then shredded. (I do not keep a copy of the writings that I shred.) I then adhered the shreds with acrylic medium to a 25" x 19" birch board panel. Watercolor thinly veils the final piece, which is then sanded down to smooth out the rough paper edges, and a glossy acrylic gel is the final finish.

My Shred Edit pieces are about essence and process. I carefully choose my papers, some of which I have dyed beforehand; I write; I shred; I separate the shreds into categories; I determine which shreds to adhere; and then I let the shreds swim and flow across the board as they will, with some exception. Only the elements I judge necessary make their way onto the board. Articles, pronouns, and prepositions are less of the essence than are nouns, verbs, and adjectives. The ascenders and descenders of chopped-up words have their role as well. Although they are not distinguishable as any specific parts of speech, they can be quite elegant in their randomness and lead to the overall ethereal quality. Perhaps you could equate my Shred Edits as visual music or poetry.

Not only have I created my art pieces, (whether they be Shred Edit pieces or not), with place as their intent, but I have also been aware that I am able to imagine, develop, and compose my art in its current direction because of the place I am in - its quietude, its colors, its location in the Northern Rockies - which has helped open my mind and allowed me to think, expansively.

How humbling it is, then, that this experience has also turned me into one of 60 Montana artists represented in this first-ever Triennial, hosted for the state by the Missoula Art Museum.

* See full article at www.missoulianentertainer.com

Friday, June 26, 2009

I was reading through one of my journals last night. This particular journal includes many lists, travel notes, and notes about places. It also includes all my thoughts and plans leading up to my move to Montana. I fell asleep feeling at peace with the place I am in today. This morning, however, something I wrote in the journal struck me:

Why is it that we spend most of our lives trying to make reality work instead of trying to make dreams work.

I have certainly made my dreams work. The trouble is that once I have fulfilled a dream, whether it be of place, career, or art project, I conjure a new one to drive me. I'd like to savor the dreams a bit more and make their reality work for me before moving on. I think there is a lot to be learned from what is right around us, from what we are doing or producing in our lives. I think we can move a little bit slower (just a little bit).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Dear, dear! How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is, 'Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle!" [Alice in Wonderland]

A discussion has ensued since I posted Kerouac's self confusion upon awakening in Des Moines. Some of us have taken his words and Brandon's question quite literally, sharing our own experiences of waking up and knowing or not knowing who we are or where we are. And some of us have looked at Kerouac's words as a figurative example of change and growth.

I can say that I am the same person no matter where I might be, that my core values are the same, that my reactions are predictable. But there is also the feeling that I'm a little different as I begin each day whether at home or someplace new. To me living is about this difference. We have options. We can take that "different" feeling and create a new agenda, even create unpredictable reactions, even if the place doesn't change.

I think what I've been trying to figure out in my last several postings is if changing our mental and emotional place is an adequate substitute for changing our physical place.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In the past ten days, I've driven from my home in Missoula, Montana, through the panhandle of Idaho, across the expanse of Washington, into the city of Seattle, and out to Discovery Bay on the Olympic Peninsula. I've experienced places that really rocked my senses and found several of them difficult to leave. As I drove back into the evergreen mountains of Western Montana and to the crisp, clear, green valley of Missoula last night (Missoula had a lot of rain while I was away), I was conflicted.

Here I live in a place that I chose more deliberately than any other place I've ever lived so far. Missoula also ranks as the best in terms of beauty, comfort, and quietude. I feel safe and protected here. I feel at peace. But I don't have peace of mind. In every place I've ever lived, I begin thinking of the next "place" soon after arrival. I write lists of desirable features for each next place, and the lists persistently change. I am fickle, I know that.

As I drove back into Missoula last night, I made a mental spreadsheet of the pros and cons of Missoula versus the places where I had just been. Should I be here or should I be there? Yet as I unloaded my car and put things away, as I walked around the yard admiring plant growth, as I called it a night with a new book of poetry, I asked myself about this restlessness.

Not all of the wonderful places I'd seen would meet all of my needs on a daily basis. Sure, standing in a scrubby plain with the wind blowing my thoughts to the clouds is conducive to sorting things out in my head. Yes, walking along a narrow pier at sunset, as waves roll loudly under it to crash against the cement pilings gives me the exhilarating energy of life. I think I'm greedy to want all of these experiences all of the time.

So I'm beginning to think that place is what we create in our spirit and mind. If we can be any place and sift through it to find the peace or excitement that that place has to offer; if we can seize some of that to keep in our memory, to draw upon from time to time as we wander or move away from that place; if we can find our comfort in any place and tend to our basic needs in any place; then we could live in only one place by tempering our perspective and attitude as we live through each day. Nevertheless, I've been unable to tame my mind to do such a thing.

I'll still make my lists, I'll still look for the next, and I'll wonder why my spirit has control over my mind and why my senses have control over my spirit and why a place affects those senses so dramatically, and I'll wonder if this is enrichment or if this is anxiety.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jack Kerouac in Des Moines, Iowa on his journey west:

". . .[I] spent a long day sleeping on a big clean hard white bed with dirty remarks carved in the wall beside my pillow and the beat yellow windowshades pulled over the smoky scene of the railyards. I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was - I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn't scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future, and maybe that's why it happened right there and then, that strange red afternoon."

From On the Road.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Edition Collegiate Dictionary defines place, among many ways, as a physical environment (space); physical surroundings (atmosphere); an indefinite region or expanse; a building or locality used for a special purpose; a particular region, center of population, or location; a building, part of a building, or area occupied as a home; a particular part of a surface or body (spot); a position in a social scale; an appropriate moment or point; a distinct position, condition, or state of mind; an available seat or accommodation; an empty or vacated position; a public square (plaza); a small street or court.

I would add that place is what surrounds our mind, body, and soul at a given moment in time and space and that the place is defined by an individual's mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional interaction in that place at that time. Thus, the definitions are infinite and with memory, real or perceived, the definitions will change.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"The river carried the wispy white clouds on its back."

That line written by Deirdre McNamer in Red Rover so adeptly represents the movement of water. It also inspires me to treat water as a canvas on which to create.

McNamer, a Montana writer, has some of the most spectacular descriptions of Missoula and greater Montana, at least in the two novels of hers that I've read so far, Red Rover and My Russian.
What is it about water? Water is a place. It's a place that stands still, rushes by, undulates, dissipates, grows. It can be deathly quiet and turbulently active. We want to watch it, reflect on it, be in it. We love it and we fear it. But why?

A river runs through my town. Trails line its banks, and on any day of the year, people stroll, walk, jog, bike, or sit along its sides. I don't think I would have moved to Missoula, Montana if water wasn't part of the place. I've always lived on one coast or the other, and never desired to live in an inland state. But here I am. I both "sent" and "found" myself here, near the Clark Fork River, less than two years ago.

The Missoula valley, itself, was once a prehistoric glacial lake. I'm living in the rocky bottom. As I dig for stones to line my garden path, that lake sinks into me. When snow dusts the surrounding hills, which support the Northern Rockies behind them, I can see the various levels of that ancient lake, as the light snow settles into the hilly striations. That history sinks into me. Present and past become simultaneous during those moments of thought. The ancient water envelopes me on my dry plot of land. This comforts and connects me to this place.

Missoula also has the Bitterroot, the Blackfoot, the Rattlesnake, and Rock Creek running through or around it, some of the best spots for fly fishing in the country (or so I'm told). I could learn more about this place through its rivers. I'm not yet as connected as I'd like to be.

In the meantime, I see water everyday, whether I'm walking through town or along the shallow and narrow canal two blocks from my house. And I'm most fascinated by the canal because I know it will refresh me, not overtake me. My mother recently reminded me how my siblings and I loved it when our grassy backyard would turn into a pond during one of the rare Los Angeles downpours. That pond was all ours for the taking. It was as marvelous as the canal. Both are quiet enough to allow me time to swallow them up. They are not going to sweep by or over my thoughts too quickly.

Water or lack of it so clearly defines a place. But why is water so crucial to that definition?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

An eight by eight foot slab of salmon-tinted cement, dissected into four rectangles by two strips of wood. This slab sat just outside the family room of my Southern California house, and as I stood on its warm cement in the bright sun, it became a home of my design.

As a young child, place meant the most basic knowledge, that of belonging to a family and exploring or reflecting on the world from that base. That family was contained in a typical track house of the late 1950s. But the place was not a home, so I created my own.

Each of the four rectangles was a room - a kitchen, a living room, a bedroom, and a bathroom. All of the furnishings were imagined as I stepped around them among the rooms. So my first experience with place was the one I could devise from a square.

Here you could say that I was creating space, that perhaps I needed a space of my own. Certainly place and space are interrelated concepts; however, I didn't need space. I needed another world that could take me away from the base or place in which I was born into. And being a somewhat cautious child, I wouldn't have ventured very far to create a new place.

The cement slab was the first tiny step that has led me to all the other places in which I have found (or sent) myself beyond that Southern California house. As a young adolescent, I began to articulate the thought that I was born in the wrong place. Why didn't it snow at Christmas? Why did the sun give me headaches? Why were the most prevalent trees dry, skinny palms instead of massive, fragrant pines?

On the other hand, I loved the Southern California ocean and its brilliant sunsets that signaled the end of a day basking in the sand and rolling in the waves. In fact, that is the only thing about that place that I don't look to change - facing west when I look out over an ocean's horizon. East coast shorelines haven't got it right.

But I didn't grow up on a beach. I grew up in a valley that reflects the sun so strongly that it bleaches away any character. Living in the valley had to be all about imagination, to fill in the whitened voids. Even now, when I visit my parents, who still live in that same house, I work hard to keep that imagination going. I'm afraid it will be sucked out of me in that place. Sadly for my parents and me, I never stay long.

On the salmon tinted slab, I dreamed, I designed, I wondered. It's a place in my memory in which my understanding of place and its significance to my life began. It is also where I first linked place to inspiration and innovation.