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

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.