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?