Let me just start with an example of a piece from a decade ago, when I began working with the idea of palimpsest, which for me is synonymous with "the trace". Palimpsest refers to a manuscript page, vellum or some other surface, in which the text has been erased allowing for new writing....but the trace is left behind. When I first heard this word and its meaning, there was a kind of instant recognition, because, as a metaphor, it described exactly all my ideas related to personal and collective history, the land, our place in the cosmos. Palimpsest...the trace revealed.
The Soul of One Man
The land itself is a palimpest. Think of it...traces of whole civilizations lie buried beneath the ground on which we walk and doutless, below those remants, lie even older ruins. Sometimes the land formations reveal this trace, but often times not and it is only discovered in the process of digging, perhaps to build another future artiface, that this history is revealed. I'm currently reading (alternating with Proust!) Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler, a book that not only looks at contemporary China, but also it's long history....often revealed through the artifacts found buried in the earth. This reading, along with Glen Skien's Silent Parrot Press, are both reminders of the trace and got me revisiting this notion of the palimpsest. The piece above is an example of a series of work I was making that began about a decade ago, using Johntimothy's handmade paper....the handmade paper I still use today. I would paint, draw, paint over, draw, paint over in successive layers, always revealing something of the layers underneath....a subtle building of history and information, just as civilizations build on top of one another, leaving a trail of their own. The pieces are subtle, with drawing in pencil on top of muted shades of white and not quite white, finished with beeswax and sometimes embroidery. Look...there's the idea of writing and pattern, both of which continue to be present in my work and the pages always started out folded in two...the idea of the book was very much a part of the work, although at the beginning when this piece was made, I wasn't yet aware that I was thinking in terms of the book page....now it seems so obvious!
I realize the object in this photo is a bit fuzzy, but I wanted you to see what my brushes look like! They are all a frayed mess, because when I paint, I use them to scumble....an almost dry brush with very little paint, using a kind of scrubbing action to conceal and yet reveal the drawing underneath. When the paint dries...more drawing on top. Those poor brushes...so abused, but so loved!
All of this is to say that one of the things revealed in all of my thinking during my downswing last week was that I missed making work that dealt with these big issues...still so much a part of my psyche and how I continually find my balance and my place in the world. I don't think one can ever fully find the answers, but the exploration of time and place, history, the object.....in short, the "trace" is, in itself, the task that gives meaning...at least for me. Do even a little digging, exploring the world, look, touch, feel, listen....the traces are everywhere...the connections to the past and to the future....that's how we find our balance and way in the universe.
I'm beginning to revisit these ideas again...here are a couple of detail shots of a work in progress...
The piece has a row at the bottom of photocopied fragments of photos of my own family history. I think this piece is about the messages given to us by the ancestors....I'm still working and as many of you know by now, I think through my hands....so the meaning of the content hasn't fully revealed itself, but it will.
And lastly, I'll leave you with one other thought that comes from another relevant book in my reading history. What I remember most about it from the first reading is this notion of the earth swallowing us....a very powerful image....here's a short passage about her experience in a cave that I stumbled on last night, so beautifully written.
Dwellings by Linda Hogan
"...I walk down the passageway to inner earth. It is almost dark inside this world's silent chambers, the dank air warm and musty. Inside is a secret place, one of the land's quiet temples where hot water journeys upward after years of travel through the deep earth. The ceiling drips water, the slow sound of rain falling, rhythmic, as if from the leaves of forests. In places, the constant warm dripping of water has layered mineral down over rock, layer upon layer, until it is smooth to the touch.
Barefoot, naked, I go down the stone pathway and lower myself into the hot water. Surrounded by stone, this body of mine is seen in the dim light for what it is, fragile and brief. The water closes, seamless, around me. My foot with its blue-green veins is vulnerable beside the rock hard world that wants someday to take me in. Can we love what will swallow us when we are gone? I do. I love what will consume us all, the place where the tunneling worms and roots of plants dwell, where the slow deep centuries of earth are undoing and remaking themselves."
Thanks so much, Glen Skien, for bringing me back to my own grounding place! I encourage all of you to visit Glen's blog, Silent Parrot Press....always a source of inspiration for me! Have a great week!